Tag Archives: Jim McDonald

The First Triple Play in the West

12 Sep

On April 4 of 1880, the California League San Franciscos and Athletics met at the Recreation Grounds (the park was located at 25th and Folsom).

San Francisco's Recreation Grounds

San Francisco’s Recreation Grounds

Two newspapers in town treated the key play of the game very differently.

The San Francisco Bulletin’s coverage of the game was headlined:

Extraordinary Base-Ball Play

The San Francisco Chronicle headline:

An Uninteresting Game with a Score of 4 to 1—Very Poor Playing on the Part of the San Franciscos

In the eighth inning, the San Franciscos’ Al Mast was on second and Andy Piercy was on first.  George “Live Oak” Taylor was at the plate.

Hall of Famer James “Pud” Galvin was pitching for the Athletics; Galvin, in a contract dispute with the  Buffalo Bisons, played several months in California before jumping the Athletics to return to Buffalo in May.

Pud Galvin

Pud Galvin

The second baseman was Jim McDonald, a 19-year-old San Francisco native.

The Bulletin’s first paragraph referred to “The feature of the game” and said:

“(Taylor) struck a powerful ‘liner’ to second base, which was neatly captured by McDonald, and placing his foot on second forced Mast out, and then threw the ball to first in time to cut Piercy off.  The play was vociferously applauded.  There is but one other instance in the history of the national game where this play has been made.”

(The article was referring to Providence Grays center fielder Paul Hines’ disputed unassisted triple play, turned two years earlier versus the Boston Red Caps)

The Chronicle, while mentioning McDonald’s play was less impressed, mentioning the play deep into its much longer recap of the game.  The paper noted that McDonald made three errors earlier, and “in a measure he redeemed himself by an effective pay in the eighth inning,” the paper described the play and noted that McDonald “was deservedly applauded for it.”

Despite the triple play The Chronicle questioned the wisdom of McDonald being in the lineup:

“(McDonald) is a player of some promise, but the policy of putting him in the important position he fills is a questionable one.  In his practice games his playing in brilliant, but in a match contest he appears to lack the necessary confidence, and in baseball vernacular he falls all to pieces.”

Jim McDonald

Jim McDonald

McDonald played primarily on the West Coast, but had a brief career in the East, spending time in all three major leagues in 1884 and 1885.  He played two games for the Washington Nationals in the Union Association, 38 with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in the American Association and five with the Buffalo Bisons in the National League.

After his playing career ended in 1894, McDonald was an umpire in the National League and California League, and a West Coast boxing referee; he officiated many fights including Jim Jeffries 1898 victory over Peter Jackson and Abe Attell’s 1903 20 round draw with Eddie Hanlon.

His active career came to an end in 1904 when he was diagnosed with Tuberculosis; he died in 1914 in San Francisco.

“The Idol of the Haight Street Grounds”

11 Jun

Reuben “Rube” Levy was one of the first Jewish professional players, and one of the biggest stars in the early days of West Coast baseball.

Born in 1862 to Prussian-Polish immigrants, Levy worked as a shoe cutter and began his professional career as a teenager, playing left field for the San Francisco Californias in the New California League in 1881.

A good fielder, but not particularly fast, The San Francisco Morning Call once described him chasing a ball: “Reuben Levy, following the ball as it sped gleefully along, looked like a cow chasing a coyote across a pasture.”

Reuben "Rube" Levy, 1888

Reuben “Rube” Levy, 1888

Levy quickly became a fan favorite.

The Morning Call, and The San Francisco Chronicle called him “the hero of the kindergarten” during the years he played at Haight Street Grounds; the title referred to the section of the grandstand adjacent to left field occupied mostly by young fans.  The Sporting Life said “there never was a more popular player in San Francisco,” and called him “The idol of the Haight Street Grounds.”

Years later, The South of Market Journal recalled that the “kindergarten” fans “applauded the genial Rube for any kind of play.”  The paper said one reason why Levy was the most popular West Coast player with children was because in the days when baseballs were a valuable commodity he would:

“Get hold of a ball that he would bide and save till the game was over, when the kids would swarm down the field and gather around their idol. He would take a ball from his pocket; toss it high in the air with hundreds of healthy youngsters, among them future greats, in a big drive to capture it. Believe us, many a spunky kid emerged from this huddle with something other than a smile, yes, more like a blue forget- me-not under the eye in the struggle for the possession of the prize. Then away Rube, the idol of the Kindergarten would gallop lo the clubhouse joyful in the thought that his juvenile admirers were
made happy for the day.”

In 1890 The Sporting Life said Levy had won a contest for the most popular player in the California League, beating out popular Oakland Colonels infielder, and fellow San Francisco native, Jim McDonald:

 “(A)t the eleventh hour the friends of Rube Levy executed a grand coup by unloading three thousand votes into the ballot box, thereby flooring McDonald and other favorites ‘out of sight.’  Sixth Street and the Kindergarten by a straight stroke had outwitted Mac’s friends and landed their boy first under the wire, and distanced all others. Well, Levy deserves it, as he is a quiet, unobtrusive gentleman and first-class ball player, and Jim would rather have been beaten in the race by his old neighbor than by any other player.”

San Francisco's Haight Street Grounds

San Francisco’s Haight Street Grounds

Levy was said to have a good arm, and while with the San Francisco Metropolitans in 1892 manager Henry Harris decided to use the left-hander on the mound in an early season game.  The Chronicle said:

“The Los Angeles (Seraphs) team has a majority of left-handed batters in its make-up, and they generally hit the ball on the seam for bases. Harris is a firm believer in the theory that a southpaw is particularly effective against this class of hitters.”

The experiment failed.  The Chronicle said Levy “with the speed of a (Amos) Rusie, but without control…entered the box against (Bob) Glenalvin‘s men (and) gave them the game in the first few Innings.”

Harris used Levy three more times on the mound, but the results were no better.  He ended up 0-2, giving up 12 hits, three walks and 14 runs (although only 2 earned) in six innings.

Levy pitched at least one more game each during the 1893 and ’94 season.  The Chronicle said of his 1894 effort pitching for the San Francisco Hot Peanuts against the Californias of San Francisco:

“Rube Levy was elected to do the twirling yesterday and in consequence of the arrangement the San Francisco team was defeated.  Throughout the afternoon Reuben’s opponents at the bat straightened out his curves for long-distance jolts, and stole bases on him unawares.  Levy’s work in the box was so ineffective that the crowd was continually provoked to offering him words of cheer and comfort.”

Levy pitched a complete game, losing 18-10, the Californias had 17 hits, stole seven bases, and the Peanuts committed 11 errors behind him.

Levy was generally described as a clutch hitter, but almost no statistics survive.   Baseball Reference lists his 1892 and ‘93 averages at .237 and .283.

Levy, unlike other pioneering Jewish players seems to have been spared  of anti-Semitism and Insensitivity, perhaps owing to San Francisco’s large Jewish population (second only to New York during his career).

While the San Francisco based Breeder and Sportsman referee to his “little Hebraic curve,” in an article about one of his pitching appearances, nothing seems to have risen to the level of what Zeke Ferrias faced when pitching in the Three-I and other Midwest leagues during the first decade of the 20th Century.   It was not unusual for newspapers, like The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald to attribute a victory to Ferrias’  “Jew luck,” and conversely, when he began to fade as a pitcher to mention that “his Jew luck had quit him.”

The first part of Rube Levy’s career came to a close when he retired after the 1896 season; the second part tomorrow.